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Global Climate Change and Coral Reef Decline: 50-Year Retrospective from the Florida Keys
Anthropogenic emissions are increasing the concentration of atmospheric CO2 by nearly 2 ppm each year, warming the land, atmosphere, and oceans. In response, sea-surface temperatures (SSTs) along the Florida Reef Tract have been warming for the last century. Significant warming in the late 1970s, concurrent with the beginning of regional coral bleaching and disease outbreaks, led to the rapid population declines of the foundation reef species. The regional ocean surface warming rate from 1985–2009 was 0.27°C per decade, roughly three times greater than the observed global average. More recently, significant mass coral bleaching events in 2014–2015 and the subsequent emergence of stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD) has resulted in a depauperate coral community now dominated by weedy, non-reef-building corals. Extensive evidence mechanistically links carbon emissions with ocean warming, ocean warming with coral bleaching and disease outbreaks, and these have been and continue to be the primary drivers of coral mortality at both local and regional scales. These linkages highlight the importance of the need for science-based management of ecosystems at the largest spatial scales. Failure to address climate change as the threat it is puts the future of Florida’s coral reefs in peril.
William Precht is both a geologist and ecologist by training and has been working on coral reefs and related ecosystems since 1978. Since completing his graduate degree from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, Mr. Precht has specialized in the assessment, monitoring, restoration, and rehabilitation of various coastal resources, especially coral reef, seagrass, and mangrove systems. His contributions to the professional and academic ecological sciences community are nationally and internationally recognized, particularly regarding historical ecology and the application of ecological principals to coastal management, assessment, conservation, and restoration. Bill’s work draws upon significant research experience in both field studies and theoretical analysis.